National Crime Prevention Month: 9 tips to avoid being scammed

ORLANDO, Fla. — October is National Crime Prevention Month.

To help people avoid being victims of crimes, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Department of Financial Services are offering tips to keep from being scammed.

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Here are nine tips officials from both organizations say you should know:

1. Screen your calls with voicemail. If you get a call from a phone number you don’t know, you can let it go to voicemail and then listen to what the caller was contacting you about. If it was an important call, you can call back.

READ: ‘What in the world?’: A warning about an online property listing scam

2. Scammers may send you threatening calls that tell you if you don’t call back and pay up, you’ll get in trouble. Phone calls may make a threat seem more authentic, when in actuality it is not. If you get a call from what seems like an authentic, legitimate institution (a bank, a government agency, etc.), don’t provide them with any sensitive information unless you find an official phone number for the entity and call them back. Do not give in to pressure to divulge personal information or pay fines over the phone until you can confirm that you are speaking to a legitimate organization.

READ: ‘I couldn’t believe it happened to me’: Homebuyer loses life savings to hacking scam

3. Spoofing is the act of masking where a phone call or message is coming from. A phone number may show up on your caller ID as being local, but you could really be receiving a call from the other side of the world. Computer software makes it easy to mask where a call is actually coming from. Just because a phone number seems to be from your area code doesn’t mean that’s where the call originated. Don’t be trusting just because a phone number looks familiar.

4. Most phone plans or cellphone models have options for blocking phone numbers. If you receive numerous harassing phone calls from a certain number, you can block the number from contacting you. Keep in mind that some spam callers change the number they call from and this might not be a solution in every situation.

READ: New FTC report: Communities of color disproportionately affected by fraud, consumer problems

5. You can obtain a free credit report every year, and it’s a good idea to check it over carefully. Note that this is not the same as your credit score (although it’s included in your report), which is the numerical value assigned to how your credit is doing. A full credit report will give you a rundown of every query made against your credit, every line of credit opened, and every payment made toward your accounts.

6. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts any data you send over the internet through your internet browser. This ensures that anyone who might be snooping or capturing data as it moves across the internet won’t be able to tell what you’re sending.

READ: Senior romance scam victim shares story as warning to others: ‘My savings were gone’

7. You can’t stop every attack that might compromise your identity or your information. Sometimes companies and government agencies suffer hacks that expose millions of customers’ data; but keeping an eye on your accounts, your credit activity, and where you leave your data can help mitigate or even prevent a compromise.

8. Most cell service carriers provide software that can warn you when an incoming call is potentially a robocall or a scam. Though you will still receive the call, the call will be either labeled as a potential scam or given a rating of how risky it is to answer.

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9. If you pick up the phone and find an unsolicited automated message on the other end, you can always hang up the phone. You are under no obligation to listen or complete the call, or even to speak with a representative.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.